US District Court finds freezing of charity’s assets uncostitutional

On 10 May, the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio found that the US Treasury Department’s decision to block assets pending investigation of the charity KindHearts violated the charity’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the fourth amendment to the US Constitution. The Court considered that there was an impermissible lack of an adversarial proceeding.

The Court ordered the US Treasury to provide the defendant with access to classified information, either by summary under Court’s supervision or by giving security clearances to their lawyers, in order to remedy the lack of due process in the procedure.

This ruling came in a lawsuit filed in November 2008 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio and several civil rights attorneys on behalf of KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, Inc., an Ohio-based charity. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze KindHearts’ assets four years ago without a warrant, notice or a hearing, based simply on the assertion that OFAC was investigating whether the charity should be designated as a “specially designated global terrorist” (SDGT).

“This landmark decision reaffirms the basic principle that the government may not simply ignore the Constitution’s warrant and probable cause requirements in the name of national security,” said Alexander Abdo, an attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “By requiring Congress to step in and fix the government’s unconstitutional terrorist-designation scheme, the ruling restores a critical check on executive power. No longer will the government have the authority to shut down a domestic organization’s operations and to criminalize all transactions with the organization based merely on the say-so of the executive.”

“For years, the government has insulated its terrorist-designation decisions from any meaningful review by denying the frozen charities even the most basic constitutional requirements of due process,” said Georgetown Law Professor David Cole, co-counsel for KindHearts. “Yesterday’s decision confirms that such freezes are unconstitutional by requiring the government to provide KindHearts what it has been denied all along – a fair chance to clear its name.”

(h/t ICJ)


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